CLEVELAND – When the Twins returned to their dugout after the fourth inning, their early six-run lead over the Indians now completely dissolved into a two-run deficit, Torii Hunter decided to say a few words to his teammates. But you'll have to use your imagination.
"They were rated X," Hunter said.
Thus inspired, Hunter immediately doubled to start a comeback, and in the ninth inning he completed it, smacking a tiebreaking, opposite-field home run into the Progressive Field seats to earn Minnesota a 10-9 victory over the Cleveland Indians that snapped its five-game losing streak.
"Torii was kind of fired up. I don't think he was going to let us lose tonight," said starter Mike Pelfrey, who squandered a 6-0 lead in only two innings. "He was cussing. And then he came through."
He did, providing three hits, three RBI, some critical defense and even a stolen base, making him only the fourth Twin to steal a base after his 40th birthday. But most of all, Hunter made certain that his team understood the urgency of changing its slumping ways before the season gets away completely.
"He knows when to step up, he knows when to get more vocal. It's a combination of not trying to show panic but still showing how much passion and intensity you have for winning," manager Paul Molitor said. "When we relinquished the lead, he was particularly loud, trying to tell us to stay with the game. He had the first opportunity to do that, and he hits a double. It's nice when you can back it up that way."
Yes, the clubhouse leader role that Hunter immediately occupied has been a big factor in the Twins' competitive season. But he's proven to be far more than just a cheerleader or guidance counselor.
Good thing, too, because after the Twins stacked up six runs in the third inning off Cody Anderson, with Trevor Plouffe's two-run double and Hunter's two-run single the big blows, it looked like a much-needed rout for the slumping Twins. But the Indians strung together five singles and a walk for four runs in the third, then took the lead in the fourth when rookie reliever A.J. Achter surrendered a three-run homer to Yan Gomes.
"It's one game, but there's always the psychological damage that comes with losing games that you probably should win," Molitor said. "That would have been a difficult one to swallow."
Hunter rallied the troops, but everyone had a hand in the comeback. All nine Twins in the lineup had a hit — Hunter and Aaron Hicks had three — and Eddie Rosario tripled twice. Brian Dozier hit his 24th homer, a career high, in the sixth to tie the score 9-9. That was still the score in the ninth when Hunter faced Bryan Shaw and his cut fastball.
"He has so much movement on that cutter, you hit it off the end of the bat, or you hit it hard right at somebody," Hunter said. He pounced on the first one he saw from Shaw and drove it the opposite way, slicing it into the disappointed fans.
For a team desperate for a victory, for a team that had lost 10 of its past 12 and was just dominated in Toronto, that was as big a hit as there was. It brought out the philosopher in the man who hit it.
"When trees are in hurricane [zones], they grow deeper roots so they won't tip over," Hunter said. "That's what we have to do, try to dig deeper roots and withstand the storm. They do pass."